Jodi Hills

So this is who I am – a writer that paints, a painter that writes…

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It was pretty clear from the start that I wasn’t going to be a saint. But a poet? Maybe.

I knew she loved poems. My mother. She tucked me in each night with Emily Dickinson. I was safe and feathered (the sweet spot where hope lives).

I suppose I saw early on how the words lifted her. How even in her darkest hour, they offered this light. I wanted to be a part of that. That lifting light.

Once I started looking, I could see it. You had to want to see it, but it was there — the poetry of our town. You had to pass the giant Viking statue on main street to get to my school. The giant Viking that claimed us as the “Birthplace of America.” Written on his shield, what could be more poetic than this? Inside Washington Elementary, Mr. Iverson brought the bouncing words and notes into our kindergarten music class. The librarian read the words aloud that soon we would learn to spell in Mrs. Berstrom’s first grade classroom. Words screamed from monkey bars and whispered in lavatory lines. Words I scribbled in crayon and revealed to my mother at bedtime. Hope lived.

Poetry winded through my wet hair as I raced on my bicycle from Lake Latoka. Poems ran beneath my sanded feet in the ballpark. Waved through the farm fields of my grandfather. The open windows of my grandma’s car. Bounced upon the neighbor’s screen doors. Crackled in the summer gravel of Van Dyke Road. Fell from autumn trees. Rested in winter snows. And returned with spring — just as promised. Summer bikes once again pulled from garages.

I attached the playing card to the wheel beneath my banana seat. The joke would now be on my brother, because he could no longer ask me to play “52 pickup” – now it would be 51. The click-clacking echoed through the streets as I pedaled. What was making the sound? Was it the wheel? The card? Or the wind?

And so it was with the poem. Who was writing it? Was it me? My mom? The town? The words echoed in my heart. I wrote them on paper. And we were saved.

They don’t make me want to go back, but pay attention to the place I’m in — the poem that is gently click-clacking right outside my window. A love that keeps lifting. Safe. And feathered.

“EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it…every, every minute?”

STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe…they do some.”

― Thornton Wilder, Our Town

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A love song in silver.

I raced the stairs to his class. He was a stickler for detail. One must be on time, or you will get a “greenie.” A greenie was a small piece of green paper, denoting some poor behavior – like being late, talking out of turn, not doing an assignment. And a certain amount of greenies resulted in detention or grade reduction. Of course this was incentive enough to race the halls of Central Junior High and up the stairs to his classroom, but it was more than that, I was excited for his class, English Literature. I was excited to see him. He postured straight at the front of the class. Suited and bow-tied, a pocket filled with green paper, one finger pressed to lips like a conductor waiting for the orchestra of the English language to begin.

In his fitted plaid lime green jacket he introduced us to T.S. Eliot. He read to us in perfect pitch “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The boys giggled. Mocked. Rhymed words with “frock” and quieted down after receiving their greenies. “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” the lyrics danced in my heart. Never to be careful, ordinary, predictable, monotonous — this was the lesson. I put it in my heart and quietly vowed the same.

In my mother’s silverware drawer, there was one spoon different from all the rest. Before I knew of words and poems, or even what was ordinary, I loved this spoon. It was the only one I ever used. My mother made sure that for each meal it was clean. My spoon. My different spoon. Not matching. Not safe. Extraordinary.

When I moved to France, the hardest thing, (the only thing that could have made me stay) was my mother. In the first weeks, my lonesome heart ran through the doubts. Had I done the right thing? No one can give you life’s permission, but I waited for a sign. A letter arrived. Small, but an odd shape. I opened it. My spoon. My different, glorious spoon — a love song in silver.

It sits by my desk. Telling me daily to choose the extraordinary. The sun comes up. I race its stairs to the beautiful unknown.


You don’t have to blend to belong.

Our jeans were impossible to get off. We cinched the cuff. Rolled it a little. Then took safety pins to secure our coolness. Problems soon arose. Gym class. To change your clothes in the allotted five minutes was nearly impossible. This, combined with the fact that everyone was doing it — and how were we really “cool,” or different if the whole school waddled in the safety of being pinned? — made me quit the fad rather quickly.

I suppose I’ve never been one to blend. Maybe we think there is security in numbers. But to be lost in a crowd, is still being lost. And I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s oh so necessary. Oh so rewarding. To make your own way. Your own path. To follow it. And to allow yourself to veer. And those that are meant to walk with you will find their way. Without pulling or prodding. And that journey will be more than cool – it will be magical. Every step of the way.

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From chickens to tombstone.

On Monday, we stopped in a small village to visit the museum of Frédéric Mistral, a famous French poet. Of course it was closed. It was Monday after all, and it was France. The strong winds of the same name (mistral) blew us back into town on Tuesday.

Dominique drove down the alley behind the museum and stopped in front of two large white chickens and a black barking dog. His creative parking sense never ceases to amaze me. “Nice doggy…” he said while opening the door slowly. Clearly this dog didn’t speak English. 

We tiptoed to the closed door of the museum. The sign seemed to indicate that it should be open. But no. We walked across the street to the office of tourism, which in itself brought a smile — a town this size. Dominique inquired about the museum. “Oh, it would be closed for a year,” he said so casually in French. “Is there a place to sit?” I thought.  “You can go across the street to the cemetery and visit his tomb,” he said. There was no meter to our chicken coop parking, so we agreed. 

Inside the cemetery a small sign pointed to the tomb. They put a picture of it on the sign, which was clearly needed, because there was no name on the tomb. We stared for a minute through our blowing hair. Looked at each other and walked back towards the alley. The dog barked in his own angry language. The chickens joined in with theirs. We got out of the wind into the warmth of the car. 

I had wanted a famous poem. But I suppose we had written our own. From chickens to tombstone, we wrote the words that I will remember — with all due respect to Frédéric, probably much longer than any of his.

I live in the word. The sun is rising. Releasing the hounds. Releasing the poets. Let’s begin.


A joyful ease.

“Hi, Jod…” I can’t play it for you. The only recording of it is in my head. You’ll have to trust me. The sound of it is so beautiful. Like the first bird you hear in spring. The lilt of song that tells you all is well, just as it should be. A joyful ease, with just a glint of what could be. That is what I heard when my mother called my name.

I knew when she said it, “Hi, Jod,” that there was no news to tell. Just a sharing of gathered interests. Gathered hearts. Maybe a new outfit from Sundance. Something that made her laugh. Something she still hoped for — those were my favorites – to hear her still hope for something, like a Spring coat, or a gentle kiss. 

People memorize stanzas of songs, of poems, to feel something, with far less meaning. How lucky am I? To have it all in just two words. So easy to carry in my heart’s pocket. 

I started a new book yesterday. “Trajectory,” — collection of short stories by Richard Russo. In the first story, a group of intellectuals are discussing the “greatest lyric poem ever written.” They made the ruling that to nominate a poem you had to be able to recite the whole thing from memory, and then make your case for its greatness. One person recited “Kubla Khan” in its entirety. All the greats. But when it came to this one man’s turn, he recited a children’s poem. Everyone knew it. With its “childish iambic downbeat.” Everyone laughed and enjoyed it, but then insisted he explain why this was the greatest poem ever in the English language. “Because,” he said, suddenly serious, his eyes full, “when I speak those words aloud, my father’s alive again.”

Tears of joyful tenderness fell down my face. And I heard the words, “Hi, Jod.” These two words, for me, the greatest poem ever written.